According to a new report, Boko Haram’s reign of terror in the northern regions of Nigeria has forced nearly 800 people to flee the area on a daily basis, with over 3,000 people killed in the last year alone.
A new report issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has indicated that a total of 3.3 million Nigerians have now been driven from their homes as a result of Boko Haram attacks, however there are fears that the group’s relentless attacks on civilians, including the high-profile kidnapping of over 200 school girls in April, could have implications for the wider region, as West Africa’s wider security is increasingly becoming at risk. This has been reflected by Alfredo Zamudio, director of IDMC, who has stated “the group is growing in its ambition, capability and reach, creating fears that it will become a regional destabilising force, on par with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, “ adding “as the government struggles to contain the group’s southward spread towards Abuja, questions for the future of regional stability have been raised, which have weakened Nigeria’s relations with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.” The local economy has also been affected by the violence, which could have devastating consequences in the next few months. Over 60 per cent of farmers in the northern region of the country were displaced just before the start of the planting season. This has sparked worries of severe food insecurity and escalating food prices.
Despite Nigeria’s on going counterinsurgency operations, and the imposition of a state of emergency in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe by the Nigerian government in May 2013, Boko Haram attacks have escalated in frequency and impact over the past year. According to figures from the United Nations, at least 3,000 people have been killed since the state of emergency was imposed while at least 250,000 people have fled their homes over the same period.
The latest figures come just days after hundreds of people are suspected to have been killed in new Boko Haram attacks that were carried out in the north-eastern region of the country on Tuesday. According to residents, gunmen laid siege to four villages, razing homes, churches and mosques, and killing many.
Meanwhile Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague will host a meeting of African and Western officials in London next week. According to his office, the meeting will be aimed at increasing international efforts to defeat Boko Haram. The 12 June meeting will be attended by the Nigerian foreign minister and representatives from neighbouring African countries, including Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Officials from Canada, Britain, France, the United States and the European Union will also be present. A statement released by the Foreign Office indicated “the meeting will consider what can be more done both to improve regional coordination, and on economic and social development to counter the threat of Boko Haram.” A statement released by Mr Hague’s office stated, “the London Ministerial on Security in Northern Nigeria will…consider further options to combat terrorism. This shows the determination of those in the region, with the support of the international community, to defeat Boko Haram.”
World health officials confirmed Wednesday that after a deadly spike in recent days, some 208 people have now died from the Ebola virus in Guinea.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials have reported that during the period between May 29 and June 1, at least 21 people died from the virus while 37 new cases of suspected Ebola were reported. This brings the total number of cases in the West African country to 328. Of these, 193 have been confirmed by laboratory tests. Over this same period, three confirmed cases, and ten suspected cases, were recorded in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Six people are believed to have died from the virus in Sierra Leone while ten have died in Liberia.
The latest spike in deaths in Guinea comes over a month after health officials in the country had reported a slow down in the spread of the deadly virus. On 24 April, Guinea’s health ministry indicated in a statement that the situation was “more and more under control thanks to measures taken by the government and its partners.” Officials are now reporting that more than half of the new deaths in Guinea occurred in the southern region of Gueckedou, which is where the outbreak is centred. The region is located near the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone and is known for its weekly market, which attracts traders from the region as well as from neighbouring countries. Medical charities are also reporting that one of the reasons behind the sudden increase in cases is that some people are refusing to go to hospital to seek treatment, and instead prefer to seek help from traditional healers. While the Ebola virus can kill up to 90% of those infected, people have a better chance of surviving if the virus is identified early and they receive proper medical attention.
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders charity are currently in the region, where about 600 people are under observation after having possible contact with the Ebola virus.
The outbreak of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has prompted iron ore company London Mining, to announce that a number of its “non-essential” staff have left the country in wake of the Ebola threat. Officials at the British firm have also reported that they have restricted some travel to the area, noting that production at its Marampa mine is unaffected. The firm is currently working with local and international agencies in order to monitor the health of all its employees. While the company is one of two large extraction companies in Sierra Leone, it is the first to reveal that staff members have left the region in light of the threat.
A television station in Dubai has released a video of a French hostage kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaeda militants. He is believed to be the last French hostage held worldwide.
The video, which aired Tuesday by Dubai-based Akhbar Al Aan television, depicts Serve Lazarevic, who was abducted in 2011. During the video, Mr Lazarevic states “I take this opportunity today may 13 2014 to call on Francois Hollande, the president of France, to do everything to negotiate my release.” He also states that he is “suffering from several health problems and from difficult environmental conditions.” In the video, Mr Lazarevic, who is a dual French and Serbian national, is seen wearing a black turban and is accompanied by two masked gunmen. French authorities have acknowledged the video, stating that it’s authenticity is currently being examined by French officials.
Mr Lazarevic, 50 years old, was kidnapped along with another Frenchman, Philippe Verdon, on 24 November 2011. The two men were seized at gunpoint by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants at a small hotel in the town of Hombori, which is located in central Mali. According to his relatives, Mr Lazarevic had been accompanying Mr Verdon on a business trip. Mr Verdon was killed in July last year. His body was discovered in northern Mali, with French prosecutors later indicating that he had been shot in the head. At the time of his death, AQIM, which often takes Western hostages in a bid to gain ransom payments to fund their terrorist operations, indicated that it had killed Mr Verdon in retaliation for France’s intervention. Mr Lazarevic is believed to be the last Frenchman held in captivity worldwide. Another French hostage, Gilberto Rodrigues Leal, was killed in April 2014 after being held in captivity since 2012. He was also kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali. Last October, following secret talks led by negotiators in Niger, four French hostages seized by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen in Niger were released. One of the four hostages, Theirry Dol, later described spending almost a month with Mr Lazarevic before being freed, however the two men were not allowed to talk. While reports indicated that a ransom payment was made for the release of the four hostages, the French government has denied these reports.
While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently indicated that the French government was working discreetly to find Mr Lazarevic, Tuesday’s video is not only a proof of life but also a clear signal to France to begin serious negotiations.
France deployed troops to Mali in January 2013 after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to take over the capital city, Bamako.
Citing a security threat, Nigerian police have decided to ban public protests for the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls in the capital Abuja.
In a statement released Monday, Abuja police commissioner Joseph Mbu confirmed the decision, stating that public protests had “degenerated” and that the rallies were “now posing a serious security threat.” The capital city has seen almost daily rallies, which have called for the Nigerian government to take firmer actions to rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls that were kidnapped by Islamist militants in the remote village of Chibok on 14 April. The ban also comes a week after scuffles broke out between demonstrators organised under #BringBackOurGirls and a new government-sponsored group known as #ReleaseOurGirls. The police commissioner has also been quoted as stating that “dangerous elements” could join the demonstrations and further jeopardize the security situation.
While the protests have increased over the past several weeks, with activists and campaign groups seeking to attain meetings with senior government officials, including the president himself, last Wednesday, the high-profile marches descended into violence after a number of young men attacked female protesters, throwing chairs, bottles and stones at them. According to on the ground sources, some of the men involved in the incident were carrying posters in support of President Jonathan. The identities of the men involved in the attack have not been released, however some sources have idicated that they may have links to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). No evidence connecting this however has been released.
While no further details pertaining to the ban have been released, some protest organizers have questioned the legitimacy of the decision, stating that the move may have been politically motivated in a bid to quiet those not content with the government’s reaction to the mass kidnapping.
Families and supporters of the missing girls have been critical of President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to the kidnappings, accusing him of being slow to reach and indifferent to their plight. In the weeks since the April 14 kidnappings, Nigeria has been forced to accept international help, including from the United States, in a bid to locate the missing girls.
Officials have confirmed the release of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun, seized by gunmen in Cameroon in April.
A security source confirmed Sunday that two Italian priests and a Canadian nun, kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram militants in Cameroon two months ago, have been freed. The Cameroonian security source indicated that the hostages were “freed overnight, at about 2 in the morning. Our soldiers picked them up from a village close to Amchide,” which is located in the northern region of the country. A military source has indicated that the three, who were kidnapped near the border with Nigeria in April, were released as part of a prisoner exchange with a fee being paid, noting, “it was not easy. The kidnappers changed the rendezvous place repeatedly,” adding that the heavily-armed hostage-takers had sent a “motorbike to find us.” The hostages were flown out of Maroua airport on board a military aircraft on Sunday morning, headed for the capital city.
Italy’s minister for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini confirmed their release, stating it was a moment of “great joy.” He also congratulated the Cameroonian authorities for “a well-run operation.” The Vatican also responded to the news of the release on Sunday morning, with Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stating “the Pope, who has followed these dramatic events from the start, was immediately informed….Our thoughts remain with all the other innocent people who are still being held captive, the victims of unacceptable kidnappings in different regions and conflicts.” The priests, named as Giampaolo Mart and Giantonio Allegri from Italy, and Canadian nun Gilberte Bussier, were kidnapped on April 4 from the small parish of Tchere in the northern district of Maroua, which is located 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Yaoundé. While there was no initial claim of responsibility, Cameroonian security forces blamed Nigeria’s Boko Haram for the kidnapping. The three are believed to have been taken over the border shortly after being kidnapped, with a military source indicating that Cameroonian negotiators had spent a week in Nigeria discussing their release.
According to sources, the two priests had been working on improving water supplies and fighting the spread of HIV Aids, a well as their religious duties. One of the priests had been in Cameroon for more than six years while the other had arrived about a year before the abduction.
Militants in the region have in the past kidnapped a number of Westerners in a bid to fund their uprising. In two separate incidents last year, Boko Haram militants kidnapped a priest as well as seven members of a French family in northern Cameroon.